Q: I'm a St. Louis Rams fan and am pretty proud of my team winning the Super Bowl. But in church that day one of the Bible readings was against pride. What's wrong with being proud?
A: First, congratulations on the victory. You will recall, of course, that a ram puts in an early appearance in the Bible. In that heart-stopping tale, God tests poor old Abraham's faith by ordering him to take the life of his son, Isaac. But at the last instant, a ram happens by as a fitting substitute. Noble, perhaps, but I'm just as glad your Rams didn't volunteer to be sacrificed to the Titans for sacrifice against the Titans.
Now, on to pride. It's at the pinnacle of the seven deadly sins, so there must be a reason. Maybe there's such a thing as "good" pride over things like little Suzy making the volleyball team or Mother winning a Pulitzer Prize. But my hunch is that pride is almost always seen as an ego-puffer which produces arrogance, superiority and conceit, to mention just some minor downers. It's the kind of swagger that leads to all the other vices.
People with healthy self-love don't need to grasp on to things to gain a sense of importance. The greatest danger is idolatry. In the Bible's view, this is the impulse to make yourself God in place of God. So while your head may swell a little for your Rams, with no harm done, pride can and generally does act like a brush fire that turns into an out-of-control blaze.
Q: I know Jesus told his followers to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's, and that's sometimes used to explain why we should pay taxes. I'm sure Jesus rendered unto God--but did He ever render unto Caesar?
A: Tax season is young, but was bound to flush this question out. Add to that a nest of squabbling candidates in the Presidential primaries fighting over how much belongs to Caesar in the first place.
As far as I'm aware, Jesus is never depicted in Scripture filing the equivalent of a 1040 Form or shown digging in his satchel for an extra denarii to pony up the sales tax. But he did refer to tax collectors in kindly terms and made it clear that the worst fate awaited those who did not do something to help the poor and the suffering. Legend is that he was a carpenter, so presumably he had income at some point, though in today's "gospel of success" world he would probably have been considered a chronic under-achiever. He may well have forwarded his share to Caesar--we just don't know.
Q: I believe in one God, but could you please explain the 82nd Psalm where it says, "In the midst of the gods he holds judgment"?
A: The Psalms are an astonishing compendium of suffering and triumph. Nothing in sacred texts better reflects the panoply of human experience, from the anguish of rejection to the emptiness of faithlessness; the wonder of creation and the joy of God's presence. These were the handiworks of the Israelites who indeed clung to belief in one God.
They were surrounded, however, by people who worshipped many gods. So it was inevitable that the Psalms would address the religious tensions between the Israelites and their neighbors. Roughly put, it was a kind of "my mother can beat up your mother" challenge. The first line of the Psalm sets this decisive tone: "God stands in heaven's court to judge all other gods: how long will you gods pervert the truth and side with the wicked?" Take that.
The Psalms, then, mirror the surrounding struggles over belief, as all religions do all the time.